An Alliance of Semitic States

An Alliance of Semitic States Israel and the Arab world prepare for America's departure

March saw a dramatic increase in diplomatic activity in the Middle East. At the end of the month, the first-ever summit was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, attended by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, a de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A few days later, the Negev desert became the venue of a summit of foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco, also attended by US State Secretary Anthony Blinken. A few more days later, Israel’s President Yitzhak Herzog paid an official visit to Amman, Jordan’s capital. Israel’s top-level military delegations visited Morocco and Jordan.

And the list goes on. These meetings represent stepping stones toward the rapid forging of a broad Arab-Israeli alliance in the Middle East. Such a rapprochement between the Arab states and Israel was given rise to by the nations’ drive to secure their survival amid the mounting politico-military and economic challenges in the region coupled with the United States’ intention to recuse itself from looking after the region.

Israel’s close ties with a number of Arab countries in the region should come as no surprise. Since the beginning of the 20th century, political leaders of the Jewish community in British-run Mandatory Palestine have maintained relations with the royal houses of Transjordan and Hejaz.

After founding the State of Israel, special relations with Jordan and the traditional leaders of Christian communities in Lebanon were established. Peace treaties with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) ultimately led to the development of diplomatic relations with these two countries. Over time, relations with some North African states continued to evolve with varying degrees of success.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, active intelligence cooperation with the monarchies of the Persian Gulf countries got underway. These relations could, at best, be defined as a state of "cold peace" (with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Mauritania). Cooperation with the Gulf nations was kept out of the public eye and was largely confined to such areas as intelligence, advanced defence technologies, agriculture, etc.

Iran’s growing military, political, and economic strength and its overall expansion across the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen) are perceived by the Arab monarchies of the Gulf and by Israel as an existential threat.

As a result, the Abraham Accords, a peace treaty between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates actively brokered by US President Donald Trump, was signed. Soon after, Morocco and Sudan also officially decided to normalise their relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia welcomed the signing of the accords, although it stopped short of doing it.

The departure of Donald Trump’s "pro-Israel" administration and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, a champion of peace with the Arabs, did not freeze the relations between the two sides. On the contrary, the ascendance of Joe Biden's administration that intends to restore the nuclear deal with Iran, which is viewed with extreme caution in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh, has led to even more intensified contact.

Finalisation by the US, EU, and Iran of the nuclear deals’ clauses and the lifting of the sanctions, coupled with the recent developments in Ukraine, have given an additional impetus to encouraging further Israeli-Arab rapprochement. The disruption and chaos that have impacted global trade and economic relations, the de-facto clustering of nations into separate blocs with subsequent self-isolation within them (the European Union, the ex-Soviet countries clustering around Russia, the establishment of AUKUS, the Anglo-Saxon bloc of the US, UK and Australia), the fomenting of a severe global energy and food crisis, the US refusal to defend its allies (in Afghanistan and Ukraine), have hastened the establishment of a Middle Eastern bloc.

Arab nations have a vested interest in accelerating their technological and industrial development with the help of "local" Israeli expertise and investing their capital regionally. The de-facto takeover by the West of about a half of Russia's gold and foreign currency reserves has prompted them to reappraise the security of their assets. Far from being solid military powers themselves, the Arab countries of the Gulf need a "military shield" that Israel and Egypt could provide. Deploying Israel’s state-of-the-art air defence systems has become a strategic priority precipitated by the gradual phasing out of U.S.-supplied systems.

Another topic actively discussed is the construction of new railways and pipelines to tie into Israel’s Mediterranean seaports with further access to the EU.

 Aside from inflows of investment, infrastructure development, and the emergence of a regional market to address international logistics and political risks, Israel is keen on neutralising its biggest threat: its lack of strategic depth. "Having strategic depth will enable our Air Force to counter threats originating far from (Israel's) borders and obtain "preliminary" intelligence from partner nations. Israel is not far off from forging a regional NATO-like defence alliance with other Middle East countries," senior military officials were quoted by Israeli media as saying.

A few symbolic telltale details have manifested a change in the relations. At the official opening of the regional Energy Forum for Africa and the Middle East in February, Egypt’s President El-Sisi pointedly walked up to a representative of Israel to extend his welcome. After the March summit, he accompanied Israel’s Premier Bennett back to the airport, although the protocol does not require this. And finally, the Negev meeting of the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco was held in Sde Boker, a kibbutz known to be the retirement residence of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister.